Eminent librarian overcame childhood polio

Deep faith crucial to Kellen, pictured right

James Kellen overcame childhood polio, turned to education and the Catholic faith, and won renown for his academic skills over a 40-year career as a librarian at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota.

James Kellen, librarian, 1932-2016

- The Star Tribune, Minneapolis

The polio came suddenly, when Kellen, who has died aged 84, was playing in a football game during his junior year in high school. Soon he was flat on his back, paralysed, and was told he would spend the rest of his life in a hospital bed.

How differently things turned out.

Determined to live a meaningful life despite the sobering prognosis, Kellen turned to education and the Catholic faith. He put his mind to work where his body couldn’t, and won renown for his academic skills over a 40-year career as a University of St Thomas librarian.

“Jim was entirely humble and dependent on God,” said John Davenport, a history professor who worked with Kellen for 23 years. “He was a pious, cheerful man who knew his limitations, and knew the world wasn’t a perfect place, but trusted in God’s provision for every part of his life.” 

In Kellen’s final years, he was the first to arrive at Mass and last to leave after leading the Divine Mercy prayer, said former Minneapolis City Council Member Joe Biernat, who met Kellen at church and became a friend.

“He was so inspiring through his presence,” Mr Biernat said. “You look at him and realise this man has lived his life with these physical challenges. He carried this heavy cross all his life and accomplished so much.”

Kellen’s long association with St Thomas began as a student.

A native of Woodstock, he graduated from the St Paul college in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in English and received a master’s degree in education there in 1958.

He also received a bachelor’s degree in library science from what was then the College of St Catherine in 1959, and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Minnesota in 1965.

It was noted at Kellen’s funeral that he earned his degrees with the use of only three fingers, Mr Biernat said.

Kellen was a man of deep faith. In a campus video made in the 1990s, he reflected that many people “just don’t understand that if you don’t have God in your life, these other things don’t really matter, ultimately. When you come to the end, it’s just going to be you and God.”

Photo: University of St Thomas

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